2005-08-18 / Front Page

Town may soon have its own animal shelter

By Donna K. Drago

Barbara Szepatowski, councilwoman and animal volunteer, discusses plans for the new animal shelter at the rear of the Town Offices on Southwest Avenue. Photo by Donna Drago Barbara Szepatowski, councilwoman and animal volunteer, discusses plans for the new animal shelter at the rear of the Town Offices on Southwest Avenue. Photo by Donna Drago When most people look at the dilapidated, leaky-roofed building that now stores old town records and forgotten recreation department stuff behind the Town Offices on Southwest Avenue, they see a mess that probably should be destroyed.

But when Barbara Szepatowski looks at the very same building, she sees a future for all the homeless and unwanted animals on Jamestown.

“We did it in North Kingstown, and we can do it here,” a confident Szepatowski says about the weeks of work that it will take to transform the building into a place where both animals and the humans who will care for them will feel comfortable.

For the past six years, Szepatowski, a town councilwoman and the owner of the pet supply shop Paws & Claws, has been a volunteer animal placement co-ordinator for the town. She says that often when a loose dog is found in town and the owner’s cannot be contacted, “I’ll end up driving around with it” for several hours until arrangements are made to reunite the dog with its family. When unwanted litters of kittens are born in town, it’s Paws & Claws that usually gets the call to come get them, Szepatowski said.

Jamestown does not have its own animal shelter, so any pets that come in either are placed with families or sent to the animal shelter in North Kingstown.

Szepatowski produced a multipage bill for veterinary services for 18 cats and kittens that were taken in by her “foster parents” network during the month of July. It was for more than $1,800, which Szepatowski said would be paid for by the Paws & Claws Pet Fund. “We’ll have to raise money for this,” she added.

Szepatowski said that the bills from the Newport Animal Clinic or the Jamestown Animal Clinic are usually sent to her, but this time it was sent to the town for payment.

“They were surprised” to see how much this costs, Szepatowski said, noting that the animal clinic gives her organization a discount on services.

“But, I’m glad they sent it to the town,” she noted, “because it shows that there’s a real need for an animal shelter here.”

Szepatowski said that she, along with many volunteers who have already called her to commit labor or supplies, will begin the process of transforming the former garage at the back of the town property the weekend of Aug. 27.

“I know we can do this,” Szepatowski said, pointing out that two years ago a group of Jamestown volunteers worked with the town of North Kingstown to completely update the pet shelter in that town because that is where the island’s animals are brought.

“We worked from Thursday to Sunday,” Szepatowski said, adding that the whole effort, including landscaping, was completed in the long weekend.

Szepatowski said that the roof of the Jamestown building will have to be replaced. A fence will be put up to hide the shelter from the neighboring residential property to the south, and the facility will be rewired, plumbed and new walls will be put up before the first set of paws crosses the threshold.

She expects the construction to take place over the course of “four or five weekends,” Szepatowski said.

A building permit will be required from the town and the state Department of Environmental Management’s Office of the State Veterinarian will inspect the facility before it is allowed to open, Szepatowski said.

“We need everything,” she said about the construction effort, noting that she is co-ordinating a list “like a wedding gift registry” that includes all building materials that will need to be bought to complete the job.

People can call Paws & Claws to ask what’s still needed, Szepatowski said, adding that “we’ll take money” as well as supplies.

On the town side, town officials have agreed to pay for water, sewer, and electricity at new facility.

“And Chief Tighe offered to put the animal control officers’ office here,” she added.

Everything else—labor, supplies and veterinary expenses— will come from volunteers, donations, and grants, Szepatowski said.

“We know the town has no money,” for this, the councilwoman said, “it’s a low priority financially,” she added,” but not a low priority in terms of need.

The shelter will only be able to house cats overnight. All dogs that come into the shelter will have to be brought over to North Kingstown at the end of the day if they are not claimed. Szepatowski said that it’s because of the noise that neighbors don’t want dogs left overnight.

For that reason, Szepatowski sees the facility as only a temporary fix to the island’s lack of an animal facility.

“This property will probably be sold,” Szepatowski said about the Town Offices in light of the fact that a new combined town facility will be built in the future, so they will look to raise funds to erect a permanent animal shelter, perhaps near the water treatment plant on North Main Road “where there are no neighbors,” she noted.

Anyone and everyone who wants to contribute either time, supplies or money are asked to call Szepatowski at Paws & Claws, 423-9677, to make a donation.

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